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Masterful weaving

‘Quinceanera’ deserving of its awards.


15: Emily Rios as Magdalena.
  • 15: Emily Rios as Magdalena.

The transition from girlhood to maturity in Mexico is marked with the celebration of the Quinceanera, or the 15th birthday. That is the subject of the feature film of the same title by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who also penned the film’s script. But simply documenting this rite of passage would be far too simple, and far too boring. Instead, what Glatzer and Westmoreland have given us is a film that weaves together threads of religion, culture, sexuality and a sense of place so masterfully, one can understand why it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

“Quinceanera” takes place in the Echo Park division of Los Angeles and tells the story of Magdalena (Emily Rios) and her family as she prepares for her own Quinceanera. With smiles and celebrations, Magdalena and her friends spend days in a blissful existence, thinking only of the next stage of adolescence, fantasizing about the opportunities that it allows — until one day when Magdalena mysteriously discovers that she’s pregnant and her world is turned upside down. She’s forced out of her parents’ house, even after protesting that she’s still a virgin, and sent to live with her great-great-uncle Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez) and her gay cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia).

Uncle Tomas is my grandfather. He’s your grandfather. And at a time when Magdalena’s family is fracturing at its core, his home becomes a haven. It is there where the wounds begin to heal.

Predictably, the boy responsible for Magdalena’s pregnancy runs away. He’s off to live with relatives, pursue his studies and become a doctor. But Carlos, who has begun to understand the importance of responsibility after a lifetime, one can assume, of mischief, steps in. He’s gay, but the only real relevance that has to this film is that he’s developed a sexual relationship with the two men who happen to be Uncle Tomas’ landlords. Sharing partners doesn’t work with this threesome. One gets jealous, the other defensive and the middle man (Carlos in this instance) is left with only an eviction notice.

The film pulls all of these issues together quickly, and you can’t help but feel somewhat dissatisfied, not because the ending is bad, but because you want more time with them. Like the gardens in Uncle Tomas’ yard, you want to watch them grow.

While dealing with complex social, religious and moral issues, this film avoids preaching. Its intent is not to deliver a lesson in morality, or in immorality for that matter. Rather, “Quinceanera” is a lesson in compassion. And it’s a film worth believing in because to believe in “Quinceanera” is to believe in family and to believe, as Magdalena does, that you can always go home again.

— Blake Rutherford

Trust us
In the time I’ve been watching movies, I have never had one of the attendants deter me from seeing a film. On Saturday night, a friend and I were told by the girl behind the register at Market Street Cinema that several people had walked out of “Trust the Man” earlier that day. She dropped more hints about how bad our movie of choice was, waiting to see if we would change our minds. Come on, it’s not like we were there to see “Lady in the Water.”

“ ‘Trust the Man’ stars Maggie Gyllenhaal,” I said. “I am seeing this movie. And I don’t care how bad it is.” I felt like Elaine sparring with the Soup Nazi. “No movie for you!” Finally, she let us through.

The film, also starring David Duchovny, Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup, chronicles two couples in dysfunctional relationships. The relationships go from good to bad very quickly primarily because Duchovny’s not getting any and Crudup won’t commit. While the film provides some entertaining comedic moments, its overall composition is rushed and incomplete. These actors are capable of more and this film wastes their talents. Still, the film did just enough to make the experience pleasurable, even though we had to negotiate our way into our seats.

— Blake Rutherford

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